Obesity: Who Is at Fault?
Obesity: Who is at Fault? Name University of International Business and Economics Obesity: Who is at Fault? It is no secret that an increasing amount of Americans are gaining weight and much of this blame is put on fast food establishments such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Burger King, and Krystal’s, to name a few. According to Warren Belasco and Philip Scranton (2002), “The increasing consumption of convenience foods is an international trend influenced by changing lifestyles” (p. 3) From a superficial perspective, this doesn’t seem like much of a problem.
However, Robert Jeffery and Simone French (1998), authors of the article Epidemic Obesity in the United States: Are Fast Food and Television Viewing Contributing? assert that “Obesity is an important public health problem that, in recent years, has reached epidemic proportions” (p. 277). In fact, some are calling the problem the “obesity epidemic. ” Several lawsuits against fast food establishments have been filed by those who are overweight. It’s a serious problem, one that cannot be ignored. Before anyone assumes that it’s just the United States, think again.
With the increasing number of fast food establishments in countries other than the United States, such as China, Japan, and Brazil, so are obesity rates. The obesity epidemic can no longer be ignored and must be solved. While the problem is known, the source of it is not and must be traced. What exactly is the source of obesity? Many people believe it to be fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Krystals, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell. After all, are they not the ones distributing the food so unhealthy and high in calories? Are they not the ones advertising delicious, backstabbing food?
Are they not the ones making the food so addictive that the consumers have no choice but to eat it and come back for more? It is not a secret that there have been countless lawsuits against fast food establishments. One of the most popular lawsuits, Pelman v. McDonald’s, has been nicknamed the “McLawsuit. ” In this lawsuit, two overweight children (one of whom was nineteen years old) sued McDonald’s seeking compensation for their health related problems cause by obesity. There is no debate that most people understand that fast food is unhealthy, regardless of what the Pelman v.
McDonald’s lawsuit claims. There have been documentaries recording, such as Morgan Spurlocks’ Supersize Me, in which he eats McDonald’s for three meals for a month. The result is irrevocable and much more severe than any of the three doctors he had hired imagined. It would be hard to find someone that denied that fast food was unhealthy. However, this does not mean that it is the reason for obesity. Fast food establishments should not be blamed for the obesity epidemic because when it all comes down to it, it’s a simple matter of choice.
Fast food establishments do not hold their consumers at gunpoint and force them to buy their food, nor do they additives in their products to make it chemically addictive, despite what the plaintiffs lawsuit claim. Todd G. Buchholz, an international economist, keynote speaker, and author of “Are Fast-Food Establishments Making Americans Fat” poses an interested scenario: The overweight baseball fan jumps to his feet in the bleachers of Wringley Field, screaming for the Chicago Cubs to hold onto their 3-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning.
He squeezes a Cubs pennant on his left hand while shoving a mustard-smeared hot dog into his mouth with the right. The Dodgers have a runner on the first who is sneaking a big lead off the base. The Cubs’ pitcher has thrown three balls and two strikes to the batter, a notorious power hitter. The obese fan holds his breath, while the pitcher winds up and fires a blazing fastball. ‘Crack! ’ The ball flies over the fan’s head into the bleachers for a game-winning home run. The fan slumps to his bleacher seat and has a heart attack. Who should the fan sue? a) The Cubs for breaking his heart? (b) The hot dog company for making a fatty food? (c) The hot dog vendor for selling him a fatty food? (d) All of the above? (p. 1) While this scenario seems completely absurd, there is quite a lot of truth in how today’s society works. The question that Buchholz proposes must be dealt with. Just who is to blame for obesity? The vendors? The fast food corporations? There have been lawsuits, many which are still prevalent today. The question has not been answered and people are still seeking answers.
As stated earlier, many believe the fault lies with the fast food corporations, which is why countless lawsuits have been filed against them. However, perhaps there is more than one reason why fast food establishments have been under attack. Buchholz examines this very perspective. Lawyers are under pressure to take these cases for fear that if they do not, their reputation will be tarnished. Under any normal circumstances, it would be easy to turn the cases down. Unfortunately for them, it they are no considered normal circumstances.
Despite the popularity of fast food, it has become quite popular for people to denounce the restaurants because of reasons such as: the food is making the people fat, the corporations brainwash kids, and they bribe the children with toys. Michelle M. Mello, Eric B. Rimm, and David M. Studdert analyze one lawsuit in particular. Pelman v. McDonald’s, or rather, the “McLawsuit,” as it was dubbed by the public, was filed against McDonald’s by two overweight children seeking compensation for their health problems caused by obesity. They had claimed that McDonald’s had deployed deceptive advertising, promotion, and sales.
In addition, the corporation had produced food that was not only unsafe but had also failed to warn consumers of the dangers of its products. It is quite interesting to note that the plaintiff’s attorney had also filed a similar lawsuit against McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants on behalf of adults. Believing it would be unsuccessful, the attorney withdrew the case to pursue Pelman. With children as plaintiffs, it was believed that the success would be higher, as the children would be seen as representatives of the afflicted population (Mello, et al. 2003, p. 208).
The judge, Judge Sweet, dismissed the case, stating, “Nobody is forced to eat at McDonald’s, except, perhaps, parents of small children who desire McDonald’s food, toy promotions or playgrounds and demand their parents’ accompaniment…” (Stout 2003). In an interview with the plaintiff’s lawyer’s colleague, John Banzhaf, he admits: The biggest problem is what lawyers call causation…it’s hard to tell what caused a heart attack. What percentage is obesity, versus other factors? And was McDonald’s 4 percent, versus 2 perfect for Haagen-Dazs? Everybody knows that, if you want to lose weight, you eat less, less calorie input, and more exercise.
You don’t have to learn that. (The Center for Consumer Freedom, 2003) The case drew national attention but many spectators realized it was more or less a farce in order to make a few extra dollars for the plaintiffs and their lawyer. The authors list key points of the case made by the plaintiffs’ lawyers, one of which the case is compared to those made against tobacco companies. However, there are significant differences. Unlike tobacco cases, there has been no evidence to prove that fast food contains chemicals that are addictive. Mello, Rimm, and Studdert are not the only ones to note this. Buchholz also acknowledges this key point.
Additionally, no person has claimed that they have ever become sick from “second hand” eating. Another key point is that while cigarette research has been consistent over the years, diet research fails to do the same. In fact, their research is often contradictory. There are claims that the consumers are often too ignorant to understand the risks of the food they eat. However, this is a moot point of fast food restaurants. Consumers are becoming more aware of nutritional and caloric value of food and because of this, fast food restaurants, have reacted by making their nutritional value readily available to the public.
Not only that, they have also changed their menu to feature more salads and foods with less calories. Buchholz brings up yet another important and crucial point: to understand the answer, you must understand the nature surrounding the problem. He states that even with the popularity of fast food establishments, people still eat two thirds of their daily calories at home. So while critics do a wonderful job of portraying fast food restaurants as manipulative, evil corporations, they fail to compare fast food to food made at home, school, or restaurants that do not fall into the fast food category.
While plaintiffs’ lawyers condemn the nutritional value of fast food, they fail to acknowledge that alternatives are just as bad. For example, school meals are not much better than fast foods. While the schools provide few calories, in place is more saturated fat, more than fast food establishments provide. Saturated fat is “the more dangerous subset of fats” (Buccholz, p. 4). In fact, Buchholz notes, fast food actually has fewer calories today than they did four decades ago. In the 1970s, the fat content of fast food meals and home cooked meals were very similar.
Even twenty-nine years ago, while home cooking may have won prizes for their extraordinary taste, very few would receive them from today’s nutritionists. Of course, that’s not the only thing to focus on. Modern jobs frequently require less physical work, meaning less time spent burning calories and more time being stationary. There are more desk jobs, which means workers are paid to sit in their seats rather than exert energy. Work at home jobs are also more prevalent. With the growing popularity of the Internet, money can be made without even taking a step outside of the house.
A survey shows that while people are not eating larger meals, they are snacking a lot more, something that definitely contributes to the calorie count. According to Buchholz, people have actually doubled the calories consumed between meals. This is a crucial point to keep in mind when examining the cause for obesity. Portion size is something else that is also criticized harshly. While fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s have been super sizing meals, they seem to be the target of many consumers despite other places that have also been supersizing their food, with little or no criticism.
Examples provided by Buchholz include movie theatre popcorn containers or all-you-can-eat buffets. Studies show that people can eat bigger portions of fast food-like meals such as hamburgers and fries not at the restaurants but in their own home kitchen. Home cooked hamburgers on average now weigh eight ounces rather than the five to seven ounces served in restaurants, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Despite the movie theatre down the block selling super sized popcorn or the all-you-can-eat buffet, which encourages people to loosen their belt buckle, they are not under attack as a cause for obesity. Common sense dictates that McDonald’s, even if they have a super size option, does not encourage the consumer to eat all they can. All-you-can-eat buffets, on the other hand, do. Buffets encourage the consumer to exceed the limitations of their stomach and eat as much as possible. However, ironically, buffets have evaded the line of attack and blame by consumers.
Yes, fast food restaurants contain plenty of calories and no one denies that this is not healthy. However, in comparison with other food alternatives, fast food does not seem as bad as the media portrays them to be. “Unlike smoking, fast food appears to be safe when consumed in moderation…scientists at snack-food companies have reportedly investigated how certain foods trigger overeating, but not damning evidence has emerged that food manufacturers manipulate the content of their products to get consumers addicted” (Mello et al. p. 211) Moderation is the key. In a study done by Robert W.
Jeffery and Simone A. French, the objective was to observe the correlation of TV, fast food, and body mass index (BMI). The results showed that the former two were positively correlated with BMI in women but not in men, and predicted weight gain in women with high income. This information is supports the claims made by Buchholz. Buchholz stated before that there are more people simply staying in one place rather than burning calories. Such is what happens with television viewing. To watch television means to do little to not moving, equaling to no calories burnt. Epidemic Obesity in the United States: Are Fast Foods and Television Contributing” concluded that increases in availability of fast food and television may contribute to growing obesity rates. Fast food is a lot more prominent and available than it was in the past. It is simply a lot more accessible than before. However, Buchholz has this point covered; while fast food is a lot more prominent, so are jobs that require less moving and increase in time to eat and snack. Fast food may contribute to obesity but it simply not the only cause, nor should it be the main focus if people are looking to fix the problem.
In “Fast Food: Unfriendly and Unhealthy” by S Stender, J Dyerberg, and A Astrup, association between fast food intake and weight gain is shown. The authors note ways in which fast food can be “obesogenic. ” One must look at necessary things such as the portion size, energy density and fat content. The authors then conclude that reducing portions to normal sizes, eliminating trans fat, switching to lean meat, and other such actions would benefit the consumers in their quest for lowering obesity rates. However, by reducing portions to one size takes away the right of the consumer to make choices, argues Buchholz (p. 0). Beyond medical research, Morgan Spurlock, an American independent filmmaker, produced the documentary Super Size Me in 2004. In this film, Spurlock undergoes a mission to see what would happen to his body if he eats McDonald’s three times a day for one month. The rules were simple: if it wasn’t on the McDonald’s menu, he couldn’t have it; he must sample everything on the menu within thirty days; he must have McDonald’s three times a day; he can only and must super size the meal when asked; and will attempt to walk as much as the typical American.
Throughout the film, Spurlock goes through a change, both physically and mentally. His three doctors, nutritionalist, and personal trainer that he had hired all agreed that he was physically above average before his experiment began. Though all three doctors had predicted that the “Mcdiet” would have a negative effect on his body, none expected anything to be as drastic as what really happened, included but not limited to heart palpitations, and liver deterioration. Some of the results were irreversible.
At the end of the documentary, Spurlock shows that some people do indeed eat McDonald’s more frequently than they should, resulting in their weight gain and obesity health issues. Spurlocks’ main focus is on the negative impact of McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants. However, this is unfair to the corporations. While McDonald’s may cause health problems, it only does so when consumed frequently. Even though he has shown that there are people who eat McDonald’s frequently, he failed to mention that the consumers have a choice.
Fast food corporations are not holding their consumers at gunpoint and forcing them to buy their food but Spurlock presents his information in such a way as to convince his audience that it is indeed the corporations who are at fault and thus, it would be counterintuitive to his position on the subject matter. Daniel J. DeNoon (2006), author of “Obesity More Complex Than We Think? ,” suggests that even though doctors are blaming obesity on overeating and inactivity, there are other factors that play critical roles. Even if the other causes have little effect, they may together make a big difference.
Other reasons include, but are not limited to, lack of sleep, pollution, and prevalence of air conditioning, side effects of medicine, genetics, and age. So while fast food corporations may contribute to the obesity problem by providing food high in calories, the corporations cannot control any of the other factors that may lead to obesity. While it seems to be quite the trend for consumers sue fast food corporations for their obesity problems, one must reconsider if the question of whether the problem lies within the food or the corporation and reevaluate their position.
It’s easy to point the finger and there is no denying that fast food, when consumed frequently, is harmful. However, there has been no evidence stating that when consumed in moderation it is harmful. Unlike the lawsuits against tobacco companies, there is nothing chemically addictive about fast food, nor has anyone died of second hand eating, since swallowing food requires self consent. In fact, fast food restaurants have been proven to not be physically addictive (Buchholz 3).
By blaming corporations for the food the public is choosing to eat, it suggests that the public is incapable of making wise decisions and thus degrades the individual. Everybody wants a scapegoat for their problems because nobody likes to admit that it may not be their personal fault. Fast food isn’t to blame. The consumers are. Fast food establishments aren’t making consumers fat. Consumers are making consumers fat. Works Cited Belasco, W. , & Scranton, P. (2001). Food nations. Routledge. Buchholz, T. (2003). Are fast-food establishments making americans fat?.
Journal of Controversial Medical Claims, 10(4), 1-10. DeNoon, D. (2006, June 27). Obesity more complex than we think?. Retrieved from www. webmd. com/content/article/124/115592 Jeffery, R. , & French, S. (1998). Epidemic obesity in the united states: Are fast foods and television viewing contributing?. American Journal of Public Health, 88(2), 227 228. Mello, M. , Rimm, E. , & Studdert, D. (1998). The mclawsuit: The fast-food industry and legal accountability for obesity. American Journal of Public Health, 88(2), 207 216.
Special report: Judge dismisses frivolous mclawsuit. (2003, January 22). Retrieved from http://www. consumerfreedom. com/2003/01/1753-special-report-judge-dismisses frivolous-mclawsuit/ Spurlock, M. (Director) (2004). Super size me [DVD]. Stender, S. , Dyerberg, J. , & Astrup, A. (2007). Fast food: Unfriendly and unhealthy. International Journal of Obesity, 31, 887-890. doi: 10. 1038 Stout, D. (2003, January 24). Obese teens lose mclawsuit. Retrieved from http://www. theage. com. au/articles/2003/01/23/1042911491525. html